Organophosphate Esters: Are These Flame Retardants and Plasticizers Affecting Children's Health?

Curr Environ Health Rep. 2019 Dec;6(4):201-213. doi: 10.1007/s40572-019-00258-0.


Purpose of review: Organophosphate esters (OPEs) are applied to a variety of consumer products, primarily as flame retardants and plasticizers. OPEs can leach out of products over time and are consequently prevalent in the environment and frequently detected in human biomonitoring studies. Exposure during pregnancy is of particular concern as OPEs have recently been detected in placental tissues, suggesting they may be transferred to the developing infant. Also, studies have now shown that children typically experience higher exposure to several OPEs compared with adults, indicating they may be disproportionately impacted by these compounds. This review summarizes the current literature on reproductive and child health outcomes of OPE exposures and highlights areas for future research.

Recent findings: Experimental animal studies demonstrate potential for OPEs to adversely impact health, and a limited number of epidemiologic studies conducted in adult cohorts suggest that OPEs may interfere with the endocrine system. Neurodevelopment is perhaps the most well studied of children's health endpoints, and several studies indicate that prenatal and early life OPE exposures impact both cognitive and behavioral development. Associations have also been reported with reproductive outcomes (e.g., fertilization and pregnancy loss) and with the timing of parturition and preterm birth. Cross-sectional studies also demonstrate associations between OPEs and respiratory health outcomes, allergic disease, and measures of adiposity. An expanding body of research demonstrates that OPEs are associated with adverse reproductive health and birth outcomes, asthma and allergic disease, early growth and adiposity, and neurodevelopment. Still, additional research is urgently needed to elucidate the full impact of OPEs on children's health.

Keywords: Asthma; Birth outcomes; Children’s health; Flame retardants; Neurodevelopment; Organophosphate esters.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Esters / analysis
  • Esters / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Flame Retardants / analysis
  • Flame Retardants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Organophosphates / analysis
  • Organophosphates / toxicity*
  • Plasticizers / analysis
  • Plasticizers / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*


  • Esters
  • Flame Retardants
  • Organophosphates
  • Plasticizers